Film: The Great Dictator

TV-TROPEN...SCHTONK!

"Eh das Strahf mitz Hutenzecht! Der Weinerschnitzel mittalagen vienten, und das SAUERKRAUT!"
His Excellency Adenoid Hynkel, Phooey of Greater Tomainia, Conqueror of Osterlich, Future Emperor of the World

The Great Dictator is a famous Charlie Chaplin film about a European dictator who uses the Jewish people as a scapegoat for his country's problems and tries to ally himself with the republic of Bacteria, since both wish to annex the country in between them. At the same time, a World War I veteran with a case of Easy Amnesia — who happens to be a dead ringer for the dictator — returns to his barbershop in the Jewish ghetto to find out things aren't quite as nice as they used to be...

Chaplin planned and shot the film in 1939-1940; France was conquered during the filming, which may have influenced the final tone of the film. While Chaplin understood from first-hand accounts how hostile the Third Reich was to Jews, at the time of filming, he was ignorant of Hitler's desire to exterminate them and most of eastern europe in the near future (the Hungerplan was devised alongside planning for Operation Barbarossa later that year and the Final Solution in early 1942). After World War II Chaplin expressed some regret about the film, telling interviewers that he might not have made it if he'd known the whole story. That would be an artistic challenge Roberto Benigni would take up 50 years later with the Oscar winning Dramedy, Life Is Beautiful.

The Great Dictator was (of course) banned in Nazi Germany, although prints of the film still found their way into occupied Europe. According to an eyewitness, Adolf Hitler obtained a copy of the film and watched it twice; when Chaplin found this out, he said that he would give anything to know what he thought of it. Britain had announced that they were going to ban the film while the film was in production (so that it wouldn't interfere with the country's appeasement policy with Nazi Germany), but when the film was released, Britain had entered the war against the Nazis, and the film couldn't be brought in fast enough; it ended up providing some badly needed laughs at a time where laughs were in short supply for Britain (and most of Europe).

Ironically, for all of the controversy surrounding it, The Great Dictator was not the first American anti-Nazi comedy film — Chaplin was upstaged by The Three Stooges with the short film You Nazty Spy by nine months.

The film is also a landmark for Chaplin himself - it was his first all-sound film, released over a decade after the rest of Hollywood transitioned to sound. (In the meantime Chaplin had stubbornly made City Lights and Modern Times as silent films.) And although the barber is explicitly not the Tramp character, he nonetheless has the Tramp's physical appearance - baggy clothes, big shoes, cane, and that moustache - and thus this film marks the final time Chaplin would invoke some version of this character on screen.

For the Sacha Baron Cohen movie, see The Dictator, which is also a satire.


The Great Dictator includes examples of the following tropes:

  • Adolf Hitlarious: Came pretty close to being the Ur-Example and Trope Maker, but was beaten out by The Three Stooges' You Nazty Spy.
  • Agony of the Feet: In the beginning set in World War I, the Jewish barber puts down the butt of his gun onto the foot of a fellow soldier, who scolds him.
  • Arcadia: Osterlich is depicted as a heavenly place out in the country.
  • Armies Are Evil: The Tomanian Army.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: A quite memorable (and hilarious) example of faux-German. Chaplin is making it up as he goes, and it's rather obvious that when he ran out of "words" he would say "Fluten sacht der Fluten"or something similar.
  • As the Good Book Says: The barber quotes The Bible (specifically Luke 17:20 - 17:21) in his Rousing Speech: "In the seventeenth chapter of Saint Luke it is written " the kingdom of God is within man " - not one man, nor a group of men - but in all men - in you, the people!"
  • Author Tract/Balcony Speech: "Look up, Hannah".
  • Batman in My Basement: Defector from Decadence Commander Schultz hides in the basement of a Jewish family.
  • Beautiful All Along: Hannah after her makeover, though she never looked ugly to begin with.
  • Bicep-Polishing Gesture: Hynkel briefly affects this when discussing the strength of the Aryan people.
  • Black Comedy: Lampoons everything from war, anti-Semitism and even rape.
  • Black Speech: The pseudo-Germanic gibberish that constitutes all but three words of Hynkel's opening address. It's so difficult to pronounce that Hynkel descends into coughing fits twice during the speech.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: The closing speech is not delivered by the barber impersonating Hynkel, but by Charles Chaplin speaking directly to an audience that, at the time the film was made, was just entering into World War II.
  • The Caligula: Hynkel.
  • Cannon Fodder: Discussed during the final speech.
    "Soldiers! Don't give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you, enslave you; who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel! Who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder."
  • Casual Danger Dialogue: When the Jewish Barber is hanging to an upside-down plane by just the throttle, he never even raises his voice. When the plane starts to dive, Schultz rambles about his beloved and daffodils, and continues even after the plane crashes.
    Schultz: We're upside-down.
    Jewish Barber (hanging on for dear life): I'm aware.
    Schultz: Give me that stick. (so he can pilot the inverted plane)
    Jewish Barber: Absolutely not.
  • Chest of Medals: Type 3. Field Marshal Herring is shown with tons of medals —- almost enough to match his ego.
  • Cobweb of Disuse: When the barber returns to his shop, the interior is covered in cob web.
  • Commissar Cap: Chaplin lampoons Adolph Hitler and wears a wonderful Commissar Cap with a XX logo in place of the swastika.
  • Damn You, Muscle Memory: Being with the Jewish resistance group, Commander Schultz can't help but do the "Heil Hynkel" salute on his way out. He apologizes immediately.
  • Darker and Edgier: Cranked up to eleven for Chaplin. Especially when viewed with hindsight.
  • Defector from Decadence: Commander Schultz.
  • Delegation Relay: When the huge gun fails to fire properly and the bullet just drops out of the barrel, the general turns to the colonel and says: "Check the bullet". The colonel turns to the captain and gives the same order. The captain gives the order to the lieutenant. The lieutenant delegates to the private (Chaplin). The private turns to his left... and finds out that there's nobody left to delegate to, so he has to do it himself.
  • Disastrous Demonstration: When the inventions by Hynkel's scientists fail on demonstration. Played for laughs, but not without a jod of Mood Dissonance.
  • Diseased Name: Tomainia (Ptomainia - a deadly food-poisoning) and Bacteria, expies of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Hynkel's given name Adenoid also verges in this direction.
  • The Eeyore: One of the Jewish men at the ghetto.
  • Egopolis: The capital of Tomainia is completely dedicated to their Fooey, from Hynkelstrassen to Hynkel Stadium.
  • The Empire: Tomainia.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Hynkel is frightened at the prospect of being referred to as a god, despite his global aspirations.
  • Evil Chancellor: Garbitsch.
  • Evil Laugh: Hynkel gets off a scary cackle before his dance with the globe.
  • Evilutionary Biologist: Garbitsch again.
  • Expy: Although Chaplin, the film itself, and movie historians were and are adamant that the Jewish Barber is not the Little Tramp character Chaplin portrayed on screen between 1914 and 1936, anyone with eyes can see the obvious similarities, from the mustache to the shoes.
    • And of course, Hynkel is Hitler, Garbitsch is Goebbels, Herring is Göring/Goering, and Napaloni is Mussolini
  • Foreign Language Tirade: Hynkel's hate speech takes this form, with an English-speaking interpreter translating providing running commentary.
  • Fruit Cart: We see a fruit cart being turned over during the pogrom.
  • Frying Pan of Doom: Hannah's weapon of mass destruction.
  • Gainax Ending: An extraordinary one in which Chaplin steps out of character and delivers a Rousing Speech.
  • General Failure: Grand Marshall Herring, who keeps bringing worthless experimental weapons for the Phooey to observe.
    Herring: [excited] We've developed the most wonderful poison gas. [childlike glee] It will kill everybody.
  • The Generalissimo: Hynkel.
  • Girl Next Door: Hannah.
  • Gloved Fist of Doom: Parodied (sans glove) by Charlie Chaplin as Hynkel.
  • Got the Whole World in My Hand: Hynkel dances with an inflatable globe. When he squeezes it too much ... the globe explodes.
  • Greeting Gesture Confusion: Twice, Hynkel tries to shake hands with Napaloni but his "Heil Hynkel" salute come in between and their hands miss each other several times until they finally figure it out.
  • History Marches On: 'Concentration camp' was a fairly neutral term at the time, and upon hearing the word nobody at the time would've associated it with being starved to death or actively exterminated. The Japanese and Germans changed that within just five years of the film's creation, making the scene where the barber is sent to a very mild-looking concentration camp rather jarring. Chaplin later said that if he'd understood just how evil the Nazis really were, he wouldn't have made the film. That said, with the knowledge of hindsight, the portion of Hynkel's first speech where he begins talking about "der Jewden" becomes unbelievably chilling, as does an otherwise innocuous scene in which Hynkel orders one of his close advisers to be sent to a concentration camp.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Hynkel gets arrested by his own men who are looking for the Jewish barber.
  • Hufflepuff House: Bacteria.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Dark-haired Hynkel and Garbitsch talk about how brunettes can't be trusted, unlike Aryan blondes.
  • Identical Stranger / Evil Twin: Both fictional dictator Hynkel and the unnamed barber, and (to a lesser extent) Hitler & Chaplin.
  • Insignia Ripoff Ritual: Whenever Field Marshal Herring pisses Hynkel off, Hynkel rips off all of his medals.
  • Instant Death Bullet: The scientists who tries to demonstrate his new invention, a bulletproof uniform, dies immediately when the bullet hits him.
  • Kick the Dog: The storm troopers strolling through the streets, vandalizing a fruit shop and throwing tomatoes at Hannah.
  • Large Ham: Chaplin (and by extension, Hynkel) is clearly having a total blast doing his rousing, macaronic faux-German speech.
  • Laughably Evil: Adenoid Hynkel is portrayed as infantile and crazy from power. Some consider this version of reality to be too humorous.
  • Mickey Mousing: An astonishing scene where the Jewish Barber shaves a customer in perfect time with the Hungarian Dance #5. Supposedly the intent was to record multiple takes and piece it together in editing; instead Chaplin brought the phonograph to the set, played the music, and nailed the entire routine on the first practice take.
  • Military Mashup Machine: Underwater tanks and flying dreadnoughts are mentioned.
  • Mind Screw: Hynkel and Garbitsch try to psychologically dominate Benzino. It doesn't work.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: The sons and daughters of the Double Cross.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Asserted at the beginning on the film.
  • No Ending: Or, rather, an ending that leaves the plot hanging for a (quite effective and moving) Author Tract.
  • No Name Given: The main character is a barber whose name is never revealed. This one of several points of similarity between the barber and Chaplin's Little Tramp character, who likewise usually goes nameless in many of his films.
  • No Swastikas: The Double Cross.
  • Officer and a Gentleman: Commander Schultz.
  • Our Lawyers Advised This Trope: Parodied - the film begins with the notice: "Any resemblance between Hynkel the dictator and the Jewish barber is purely co-incidental".
  • Pet the Dog: The storm troopers stop harassing the Jews after Commander Schultz intervenes. In one scene they even help Hannah picking up the potatoes she dropped in the street.
  • Pie in the Face: The Foreign Correspondent who sneaks into Hynkel's palace receives one of these after Garbitsch insists that the Hynkel-Napaloni negotiations are going swimmingly.
  • Politicians Kiss Babies: Played for laughs when Adenoid Hynkel is handed a baby for a promotional photo shoot after a rally, but the baby wets him.
  • Prince and Pauper: The dictator and the barber in this case.
  • Produce Pelting: The storm troopers are throwing tomatoes at Hannah in the street.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: The dictator plays with his "globe" in a manner similar to a very young child in his office.
  • Punny Name: Garbitsch and Herring, along with the title "Phooey" instead of "Fuehrer".
  • Rape as Comedy: Hynkel strong-arms a secretary and drags her to a couch. She yells "no, no, no" but eventually gives in. At this moment a phone call interrupts Hynkel and he drops the girl like hot coal.
  • Rip Van Winkle: The protagonist got amnesia and spent the whole time between WWI and WWII in a mental asylum.
  • Roof Hopping: The barber and Commander Schultz try to flee from the storm troopers by climbing across roof tops of the neighborhood. It doesn't work out for them.
  • Rousing Speech: At the end of the film, the barber mistaken for Hynkel is supposed to give a victory speech. Instead, he gives a speech in which he calls for humanity in general to break free from dictatorships and use science and progress to make the world better.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Hynkel's dance concludes with the globe popping in his hands. Given the speech at the end, it's another part of the theme that civilization cannot survive if men like Hynkel are allowed to pursue their twisted goals.
  • Ruritania: Tomainia, Osterlich and Bacteria. AKA Germany, Austria, and Italy respectively.
  • Rushmore Refacement: The Venus De Milo and Rodin's Thinker doing the Nazi Salute.
  • Someone Has to Die: Played for laughs. Commander Schultz comes up with a pudding & coin lottery to pick a member of the resistance group to commit a Heroic Sacrifice by going in and kill Hynkel single-handedly. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Hynkel's dance with the inflatable globe is set to the hauntingly beautiful Act 1 Prelude to Wagner's Lohengrin.
  • Spinning Paper: To show the passage of time.
  • Spock Speak: Garbitsch.
  • Studio Audience: Hynkel can command applause and cause it to cease instantly by waving his hand.
  • Take Over the World: Hynkel's goal.
    "Aut Caesar aut nullus. Emperor of the world. My world."
  • Take That: Chaplin's closing speech. For a man known for being silent, when Chaplin spoke, he had something to say.
  • Tap on the Head:
    • All victims of Hannah's Frying Pan of Doom.
    • Hynkel, being mistaken for the barber, gets a trooper's baton on his head and sinks down.
  • Tactful Translation: Done with the dictator's speech here.
  • Tempting Fate:
    • Hannah's comment: "Do you know, that Hynkel isn't such a bad fella after all." is followed by Hynkel's hateful radio address and the subsequent pogrom.
    • During their Roof Hopping, Commander Schultz warns the barber to be careful to not break his neck. Cue the barber slipping and falling through a ceiling window onto someone's bed.
  • This Is a Work of Fiction: "Any resemblance between Hynkel the dictator and the Jewish barber is purely co-incidental".
  • Those Wacky Nazis
  • Translation: Yes: Done with Hynkel's speech.
    • Earlier in the movie, Hynkel is delivering a speech, commented on by an English speaking narrator. Some passages are translated word by word (like 'liberty is abolished'), while others — like Hynkel's rambling about the beauty of the Tomanian women — are paraphrased with a lot of details. Then, one very long passage of Hynkel screaming, shaking his fists and growling is paraphrased only as: 'His excellency has just referred to the Jewish population'.
    • Another example uses dictation instead of translation — Adenoid Hynkel would say a long sentence, and his secretary would transcribe it in a couple keystrokes. Another sentence, and again a couple keystrokes. A single word, and suddenly the secretary is typing something that might be the original manuscript of Order of the Phoenix.
  • Visual Pun: Would you trust a regime that uses the double cross as its symbol?
  • Wicked Cultured: Hynkel likes playing the piano and does so extremely well.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Hannah.
  • Would Hit a Girl: When the storm troopers assault the Osterlich village, they get into fights with the villagers. In a struggle, Hannah gets slapped hard in the face by a Hynkel mook.